Hajdu, Don’t Make It Bad

Peanuts, June 22, 1952

Comic books, like the movies, were under attack in the 1950’s. Movie people were accused of being communists, and comic book people were accused of causing juvenile delinquency. A book by David Hajdu, called The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, gives some serious thought to what happened and how it influenced later events beyond comic books themselves. Stephen Colbert, who’s obviously a comic book fan, interviewed Hajdu a couple of weeks ago.

There’s irony in the “TV 14” rating that’s so prominent during Colbert’s introduction. It’s almost like the Comics Code Authority seal that appeared on comic books after the big scare. Oh no! How did that commercial get left at the end of the interview?

EC Comics publisher William Gaines did a lousy job testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954. His entire testimony is at this link. He should have emphasized that his horror comics were inspired by radio shows such as Inner Sanctum, Lights Out, and The Whistler. But there was probably no defense against the public sentiment of the day. In a way, losing the comic book business was the best thing that could have happened to Gaines, because he was left with MAD Magazine, which was far more subversive and influential anyway, and it ended up being vastly more successful.